Rob Morgan might be an under appreciated genius when it comes to horror and stop-motion. Sicker than Tim Burton, more juvenile than The Brothers Quay, Morgan stands apart as a director who, first and foremost, wants to confuse and disturb his viewers.
As the story goes, long ago, in England in the 1980’s, a young boy’s uncle showed him some film highlight reels. Upon viewing the cerebral climax of Fiend Without a Face, which features tentacled brains invading a comfortable middle class home, the young lad's mind was permanently warped. These killer brains were brought to trembling life using stop-motion animation, an effect so jarring and surreal that Morgan would never forget it.
Growing up on a diet of splatter films and Jan Svankmejer, this young boy eventually went to art school (Surrey Institute of Art & Design), where his stop-motion student film project garnered so much praise that the BBC started to throw money at him.
In an interview for Animateka 2015, for which he was a juror, Morgan muses on the “uncanny” and the “uncomfortably physical” aspects of stop-motion animation. His projects strive to nail down that “push and pull between something that you know is very artificial, and at the same time it's a bit too close to feeling real.”
Rob Morgan has produced a number of disturbing short films, nearly all of which predominantly feature that eerie animation style that made such an impression on his young mind. Each one is visually rotten, narratively twisted, and calculated to stick to the dark recesses of your mind like roadkill on a tire tread.
Below I’ve featured four of his best shorts, in order of insanity.
Bobby Yeah (2011)
Bobby Yeah is Morgan’s current pièce de résistance. It’s also, from start to finish, the product of improvisation. “I’d animate a bit,” he stated in an interview with Cartoon Brew, “then edit and watch the film from the beginning up to the new bit; then I’d ask what could happen next. The great thing about this process is that I was never thinking where it was going. At any point, anything could happen. I’ve tried to be really open to that.” Bobby Yeah was made after several years of pent-up creative frustration from attempting to work on larger projects with corporate backers. It is Morgan trying to be uncompromisingly himself.
The end product is 23 minutes worth of fleshy, bloody, disgusting, fingernaily (?) sickness that’s satisfying to watch for anyone with a dark sense of humor and a strong stomach. If pressed to describe it, you could tell your friends it’s like an episode of Wallace and Gromit where Wallace opens the Hellraiser puzzle box and the cenobites invite him to taste their pleasures. Bobby Yeah sports some intense reproductive anxiety, but also some beautifully grotesque and striking character design that will likely find it’s way into your nightmares.
Invocation is a story close to Morgan's heart. It's the story of a stop-motion animator who is just trying to make a cute animated film about a bear for the BBC, but he fucks it all up by getting blood inside his camera. As all professional stop-motion animators know, this is a surefire way to turn your camera into a murderous blood-womb that will kill both you and your project.
Morgan made Invocation for BBC Channel 4’s “Random Acts,” this is Morgan’s most recent work. It came about as a result of Morgan’s work on Bobby Yeah. The improvised nature of that previous short made him feel as though his work was taking on a life of it’s own. In Morgan’s own words: "Stop motion animation is a kind of form of almost procreation, in a way, where the camera would then be the womb and the frames that are coming into the camera are like sperm, and they're impregnating the camera, and then the camera is growing... you know... the thing that you're animating is coming alive inside the camera" Perfectly reasonable.
The Separation (2003)
This short contemplates themes of loneliness, family, labor, and accidental maiming. Following the life of conjoined twins who are mysteriously disjoined by a surprise medical procedures, The Separation oscillates between macabre tragedy and medical body-horror. Throw in a baby doll and a massive kafka-esque sowing machine for flavor.
The Separation was made by Morgan for the S4C Network in Wales, who at the time, had a spare budget for bizarre little projects like these. Despite being only 9 minutes long, The Separation was one of Morgan's most difficult pieces to make.
The Cat with Hands (2001)
The title delivers. This three minute nightmare is about a legendary cat with human hands and his adventures terrorizing children and the labor class of Victorian England. It’s based on a nightmare the director’s sister had when she was 9 years old. Even freakier, the cat puppet used in this short was, in fact, a full sized taxidermied cat. Morgan picked it out of a pile of (humanely sourced) dead cats in the trunk of the taxidermist’s car. Also, the cat’s hand’s in the film are cast from a real young boy’s forearms, a friend of his sisters.
Morgan made The Cat with Hands while serving as a “living exhibition” for The Museum of the Moving Image in London, in cooperation with BBC Channel 4. Basically, he had to work on a sample of the film while inside of a room with transparent walls, where everyone and their children could gawk at him as he slowly nudged mutant cat hands in front of a camera for a few weeks.